Story by Jaye Lewis
It was our first Christmas season in Florida. I was three years old, and it was going to be particularly lean. It was 1949, and we were a transient family looking for a new home. We ate pork’n’beans, and I can still hear the sound of the tin spoons scraping across tin pie plates. We battled roaches, spiders, and ants, of Biblical proportions, and there were mice!
No ordinary mice, these were confrontive and intelligent. They evaded traps, and when my mother went screaming after them with a broom??! Well, it was just a shame that the video camera hadn’t been invented yet! She would wildly swing the broom around making everyone dive for cover. To our amazement, the mice would just stand there, daring her to be accurate. Goodness knows, she never hit the varmints, but she managed to clock just about everybody else in the room. Finally, the mice became bored, and they all went south, except one.
Then came Christmas, and my mother began to work her magic. I’m quite certain that she did everything by herself. Out of nowhere appeared a tree. Out of another hiding place appeared ornaments. Mommy was very secretive, and she stayed up long into the night, working by flashlight. All of us slept in one room, my Mom and Dad on the sofa-bed, with me in between, and my brothers and sister on the floor.
Christmas Eve dawned bright and clear. Wonderful smells were coming from the old stove. My mother’s cheeks were flushed from her mysterious activities. She had managed to come up with presents for each of us, but I noticed that there was no present for her.
“Why is Santa Claus not bringing you presents, Mommy?” I asked, worried that her feelings would be hurt.
“Oh, I’m sure that there will be something,” she reassured me, in soft tones. “Perhaps there will be a special surprise from the Christ child,” she said, revealing her European roots.
My mother pulled pie after pie out of the tiny oven. Apple pie, brimming with cinnamon. Pumpkin pie, with just a touch of spice. Mince-meat pie and raisin cake. One by one, the smells enticed my salivary glands.
Near midnight, we went to church. It was so exciting to think of the yummy foods we would share after we arrived back home. I could hardly keep my mind on the sermon, as the minister preached on this special night of God’s love.
By the time we left the church, it was Christmas Day. All of us were intent upon the feast awaiting us at home. We tip-toed into the house, mindful of our sleeping neighbors. We tumbled into the kitchen around the table, grateful to discover the pies untouched by insects or rodents. We gathered together for a prayer of thanks for our lovely feast.
“Wait!” my mother exclaimed, motioning towards the door.
There, in the doorway, which led into the living room, stood a tiny mouse. She had huge ears, and her pink nose was twitching. My brother lunged, but my mother motioned for him to be still. The mouse never moved.
Then, as if on cue, the mouse darted into the living room, heading for the big dresser. Quickly she scurried, as my mother walked with a deadly purpose. This was a mouse who was going to get caught on Christmas Day.
My mother slowly opened the bottom drawer; then the next, then the next. There, curled up together in a nice cozy bed, made from scraps of material and bits of wool, lay a bundle of naked, sleeping, newborn mice.
“We can drown them!” Someone cried.
“We can stomp them!” Said another.
“We could keep them.” I piped up.
About that time, mother mouse crawled upon the top of the dresser looking down at her brood. It was a perfect time to destroy them! They were vermin. They carry disease. It was the logical thing to do.
“It’s just not the Christmas thing to do.” My mother said, with a smile.
A kind of hush settled over the room. My mother gently closed the dresser drawer, and the mouse ran behind the dresser, slipping into the drawer where her babies slept. With a mysterious smile, my mother slipped into the kitchen, and sliced a small piece of pumpkin pie. She returned to the dresser, placing the gift on the floor, out of the way.
Mommy looked at Daddy, and she announced her decision to leave the mouse family alone.
“This is my Christmas present,” she said. “Sent by the Christ-child. He was born in a stable, because there was no room for him at the Inn. Well, there is room for him in our hearts, and I think there’s room for this homeless little family, too!”
No one said a word. We returned to our feast, and I wondered about this incredibly romantic woman, who wouldn’t allow a little mouse and her family to go hungry on Christmas Day.